Decision of the Complaints Committee 01717-18 Jones v Wrexham Leader
Summary of complaint
1. Marcus Jones complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Wrexham Leader breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Groves has cost council more than £1.1m” published on 17 January 2018.
2. The article reported that the old Groves school had “cost Wrexham Council more than £1.1m from 2015-16.” It stated that a Freedom of Information request seen by the newspaper showed the Council had spent £1,107,516 on the facility from 2015-16 until December 29, 2017. The article was splashed on the front page with a picture of the building and a text box, repeating the claim that the school had cost the Council more than £1.1m since 2015-16. The article was also published online with the same headline and was substantially the same as the article that appeared in print.
3. The complainant, who was the director of Save Our Heritage, a community interest company, said that the article was inaccurate, as the school had not cost the Council more than £1.1m since 2015-16. He said that while the Groves had cost the Council more than £1.1 million since 2005, the total expenditure spent on the school for 2015/16 was only £175,235.09. He said that the newspaper had been covering this story for a number of years, and as such, should have been aware that the figure of £1.1m did not appear to be an accurate reflection of annual expenditure on the school.
4. He also said that he had complained directly to the publication and had received an email notifying him that the matter would be investigated but did not receive a further reply. He said that although the newspaper had published a clarification in the newspaper the following week, he did not believe this was satisfactory, as the newspaper had not accepted responsibility for the mistake. He also said that the online article remained online and uncorrected, even though he had brought this to the newspaper’s attention in his complaint.
5. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the information published had come from a Freedom on Information request, where a member of the public had asked:
“Can you please let me know how much the Groves School site has cost the council since it was closed as a school?”
To which the Council had replied:
“Wrexham Council has incurred expenditure since the 2015/16 Financial Year- when it stopped being a school. The total expenditure incurred to date as at 29/12/17 is £1,107, 516.”
In these circumstances, it said it had published this information in good faith, and had believed that the figure referred to the amount spent on the school since the 2015/16 financial year.
6. It said that as soon as the complainant had contacted the newspaper, it had initiated an investigation into the accuracy of the report. It said that the Council took responsibility for the errors, when contacted by the newspaper, and that this prompted a substantial clarification in the next edition of the newspaper, alongside a follow up story concerning the Groves. The clarification, headlined, “Groves bill was wrong,” stated,
“A front page article in the Wrexham Leader in January 17 reported on a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Len Griffiths, of Southsea. Mr Griffiths had asked: “Can you please let me know how much the Groves School site has cost the council since it was closed as a school.” The response from Wrexham Council prompted an article which wrongly suggested the cost to the local authority since 2015-16 was more than £1.1m. Following a complaint to the Leader by the Save Our Heritage community interest company, Cllr Phil Wynn, lead member for education, has said: “It’s clear the years referred to in the FOI response are wrong and I apologise if anyone feels they have been misled. “The figure of £1.1m is for the period 2005-2017. I hope this clarifies the position.”
7. The newspaper also received a letter from a director of Save Our Heritage after the clarification was published, which it published in its next edition. It said that while it was regrettable that it had not made further contact with the complainant, it had replied to his initial complaint to inform him it would immediately investigate and had published a clarification swiftly and a subsequent letter from the community group. The newspaper also said it had been unaware that the article still appeared online, but after receiving the complaint from IPSO it made arrangements to remove the article. Shortly afterwards, it also published a standalone clarification that appeared on the newspaper’s homepage for 24 hours. The wording of the clarification was the same as the clarification that appeared in print.
Relevant Code provisions
8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Council’s response to the Freedom of Information request stated that it had incurred expenditure since 2015/16 and stated that the total expenditure was more than £1.1 million. The complainant’s position was that this information appeared to be incorrect, and the newspaper should have queried the accuracy of the information with the Council. However, as it was provided by the body responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the school, the newspaper was entitled to rely on this information. In these circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 1 (i).
10. Regardless, following the complaint, the newspaper had contacted the Council to confirm if the information it had given was correct. At this stage, the Council accepted that the information provided as part of the Freedom of Information request was inaccurate, and stated that the figure related to expenditure from 2005 to 2017. Reporting that the school had incurred £1.1million costs from 2015 represented a significant inaccuracy, because it misinformed readers of the cost to the public of maintaining the building. This significant inaccuracy required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
11. The inaccurate information had been published in a text box on the front page and was reported on page two. This inaccurate information had been published as the result of a mistake on the part of the Council, and was not a wilful act on the part of the newspaper. The Committee also noted that the prominent headline claim, that the school had cost the Council £1.1 million, was accurate. The newspaper, which did not have a regular clarifications and corrections column, had published a substantial clarification, on page five, in its next edition. This clarification accompanied another story about the Groves school, and identified the inaccuracy published in the original article, and made the correct position clear. The newspaper had also published a letter from another director of Save Our Heritage on this issue the week after the clarification was published. In these circumstances, the Committee was satisfied that the print correction was sufficiently prompt and prominent to satisfy the requirements of Clause 1 (ii).
12. The complainant had stated in his initial complaint that his complaint related to both the print and online version of the article. The Committee expressed concern that the newspaper had not corrected the online article; however it accepted that this was due to human error, without wilful intent. Once this matter was brought to the newspaper’s attention, it removed the online article and published a substantial standalone correction, which appeared prominently on the newspaper’s home page and was published promptly after the beginning of IPSO’s investigation. In these circumstances, the newspaper had satisfied the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) in relation to the online article.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 20/02/2018
Date decision issued: 18/05/2018Back to ruling listing